Finance teams are investing and developing in their Finance Business Partnering capabilities as firms increasingly seek to link finance with commercial thinking to drive performance. Dee Deol, Finance Consultant at Totum, explores how firms can secure great Finance Business Partners, who have the right skills to work across the business to deliver sustainable growth.
Over the past 12 to 18 months, Totum has supported a growing number of firms to place Finance Business Partners. A good proportion of these roles have been additional headcount within firms’ finance functions. Whilst some of these vacancies are now occupied by individuals with prior legal sector experience, there have also been several instances where the successful candidate has had a background either from a wider professional services background or completely out of sector.
As legal finance recruitment specialists, it is evident from our many conversations with potential candidates from beyond law that some demonstrate a number of key characteristics that make us confident that they will be able to make a successful transition into a law firm environment.
From reviewing their CVs, it is also apparent that job titles outside of the legal sector are often not representative of the duties and responsibilities typically associated with similarly titled roles in law firms. Rather than being fixated on current role titles, therefore, when shortlisting suitable candidates for Finance Business Partnering roles, we tend to look for evidence of some if not all the following experience:
- Involvement in strategic decision making;
- Involvement in commercial decision making; and
- The ability to be a trusted adviser.
In our conversations we will particularly zone in on candidates’ experiences and approaches to the first two points and how they gain buy-in from stakeholders to achieve that all-important trusted advisor status.
Why is this experience important?
Finance business partnering within a law firm requires a level of sensitivity to overcome issues and add value with a commercial approach rather than just pointing out that a particular matter or client does not meet a required level of profit. Whilst highlighting issues is important, there is an art of saying ‘no’ in the right way, as Partners place a high weighting on maintaining relationships and are mindful of upsetting clients. Finance Business Partners need to be able to support any challenge to the fee-earning teams’ approach to a client with sound commercial reasoning and, importantly, suggestions of alternative courses of action.
This leads to two of the key skills we assess when speaking to candidates which help us to differentiate between those we believe can transition into a law firm environment and those who would struggle to do so.
Two key skills are needed:
- The ability to communicate in a concise manner; and
- Influencing skills.
No matter how good a Finance Business Partner’s knowledge and technical accounting ability is, it counts for little without effective communication of financial information to non-finance personnel. Due to the partnership structure of most commercial law firms, candidates need to demonstrate excellent influencing skills, particularly at a senior level. Anyone who has worked in a partnership environment will attest to the need to convince Partners via sound commercial evidence, effective communication and persuasion, rather than simply telling them what to do.
When we work with law firms through the interview stage of recruitment, we find those that include a scenario-based presentation in the process get to see different approaches in practice. Candidates, for example, often fall into the trap of spending too much time on getting a piece of analysis correct rather than considering how to communicate the meaning and implications of their results. The ability to translate technical detail into actionable insights is so important when discussing financial management to non-finance colleagues; being able to use a range of visual tools, such as graphs to show comparisons, trends and anomalies, provides information in a visually digestible format. These are the kinds of skills we would look for in the candidates we propose.
Insights to deliver
As law firms continue to create new positions and recruit Finance Business Partners, Totum’s Finance Team have a deep understanding of how these roles operate in practice; we have considerable experience in screening candidates’ softer skills, leaving us well placed to source highly talented individuals from within and outside of the legal industry.
If you would like further insight into how we could help you source your next Finance Business Partner, please do get in touch. We are always more than happy to discuss how we could effectively work with you.